If you notarize a document that contains a forged signature or fail to screen signers for willingness and awareness, it is highly likely you will be named in a lawsuit when that document is challenged in court.
Attorney Richard Busch, who represents Notaries in legal proceedings on behalf of Merchant’s Bonding Company — a leading Errors & Omissions policy provider — said that more than 50 percent of lawsuits targeting Notaries involve forged signatures that have been notarized.
“A number of these cases involve instances where the Notary’s seal and signature have also been forged by someone else; others involve claims the Notary failed to obtain proper identification from the signer, or the signer presented fake identification,” he said. While Notaries might not be able to identify every forged signature presented to them, the best way to protect yourself from legal exposure is to follow state laws, employ sound, ethical notarial practices, and keep a journal record of all notarizations, he added.
Another common source of legal claims against Notaries arises when it is alleged the signer did not have the mental or legal capacity to execute a document. “While the Notary does not have the obligation to perform a medical or mental assessment of the signer, it certainly is appropriate for the Notary to refuse to perform the notarization if there is any doubt about the person’s understanding of what they are signing,” Busch said. “Questions about a signer’s mental or legal capacity often lead to allegations involving probate proceedings and elder abuse claims, which are difficult to extricate the Notary from.”